The sixth mass extinction
Things were already looking grim for countless species on our planet. As the Centre for Biological Diversity and other science-backed organisations have been pointing out for the last several years, Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction since life forms began developing on it an estimated 3.8 billion years ago, with 1,000 species now disappearing per year. But the latest spate of Australian bushfires, which as of this writing had consumed 10.7 million hectares, have significantly upped that ante. Some already-endangered animals are potentially gone forever.
Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni)
The most recent fires have reportedly affected an estimated half-billion – you read that right – animals throughout the country, including a tiny marsupial called the dunnart. These mouse-like, insect-eating rarities were already vulnerable due to habitat loss from land being cleared for agriculture. The Kangaroo Island dunnart, found only on Kangaroo Island, had its habitat destroyed by three separate fires as of this writing, according to the Daily Mail. Like other impacted animals, some dunnarts were killed by flames and smoke outright; some will die later, either succumbing to hunger and loss of shelter as the trees and shrubs they rely on were destroyed, or being eaten by feral cats and foxes.
Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus)
Australia already had the highest rate of extinction in the world – 34 species and subspecies have gone extinct in the last 200 years, per estimates by Chris Dickman, PhD, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney. And the devastation seems on track to continue with this season’s bushfires. The long-nosed potoroo, a type of truffle-eating wallaby that’s a denizen of the country’s biodiverse forests and was already listed as vulnerable, is of particular concern; October fires wiped out an especially vibrant habitat that succored them in New South Wales, according to Science. No potoroos have been seen in the region since.